If you're a casual Photoshop user, you probably know how to find the cropping tool and have a vague idea of what the lasso function does. But what about all those other mysterious looking icons? As it turns out, they all have something meaningful to contribute to the editing process and can vastly improve the appearance of your photos. This handy pictorial explains what every major tool on the taskbar does — from the clone stamp to the colour selection tool.
We get it. Life is too short for instruction manuals — especially when it comes to the weighty tomes put out by Adobe. If you'd rather just grab a photo and get stuck in, this cheat sheet explains what all the major icons do, complete with pictures and keyboard shortcuts. Now go make us a photo of a cat coming out of another cat's butt, stat!
Move Tool (Keyboard: V)
The move tool does exactly what it says in the tin: it lets you move objects in a given layer around the Photoshop canvas. To use it, click anywhere on the canvas and drag. As you drag, the Photoshop layer will move with your mouse. You can choose between graphical elements by right-hand clicking and selecting the desired layer.
Marquee (Keyboard: M)
The marquee lets you select part of the canvas in a specific shape. By default you get a rectangular (or perfect square if you hold down shift while selecting), but you can also select in the shape of an ellipse (or a perfect circle if you hold down shift while selecting).
Lasso (Keyboard: L)
The lasso is a free-form selection tool that lets you drag around the canvas and select anything the lasso'd area covers. Within this tool you also have access to the polygonal lasso, which lets you create a selection by clicking around on the canvas and creating points, and the magnetic lasso, which attempts to detect edges for you and automatically snap to them. (For example, the outline of a person.)
Magic Wand (Keyboard: W)
Clicking an area with the magic wand will tell Photoshop to select the spot you clicked on and anything around it that's similar. This tool can be used as a crude way to remove backgrounds from photos.
Crop Tool (Keyboard: C)
The crop tool is exactly what you think it is. You can specify the exact size and constrain the crop tool to those proportions, or you can just crop to any size you please.
Eyedropper (Keyboard: I)
The eyedropper tool lets you click on any part of the canvas and sample the colour at that exact point. The eyedropper will change your foreground colour to whatever colour it sampled from the canvas.
Healing Brush (Keyboard: J)
The healing brush lets you sample part of the photograph and use it to paint over another part. Once you're finished, Photoshop will examine surrounding areas and try to blend what you painted in with the rest of the picture.
Paintbrush and Pencil (Keyboard: B)
The paintbrush is a tool that emulates a paintbrush and the pencil is a tool that emulates a pencil. The paintbrush, however, can be set to many different kinds of brushes. You can paint with standard paintbrush and airbrush styles, or even paint with leaves and other shapes as well.
Clone Stamp (Keyboard: S)
Like the healing brush, the clone stamp lets you sample part of the photograph and use it to paint over another part. With the clone stamp, however, that's it. Photoshop doesn't do anything beyond painting one area over a new area.
History Brush (Keyboard: Y)
Photoshop keeps track of the moves you make and the history brush lets you paint the past back into the current photo. Say you brightened up the entire photo but you wanted to make a certain area look like it did before you brightened it, you can take the history brush and paint that area to bring back the previous darkness.
Eraser Tool (Keyboard: E)
The erase tool is almost identical to the paintbrush, except it erases instead of paints. In addition to the regular eraser, there's also a background eraser and a magic eraser. Both are handy for removing unwanted details from your photos.
Paint Can and Gradient Tools (Keyboard: G)
The paint can tool lets you fill in a specific area with the current foreground colour. The gradient tool will, by default, create a gradient that blends the foreground and background tool (though you can load and create preset gradients as well, some of which use than two colours).
Blur, Sharpen and Smudge Tools (Keyboard: None)
All three of these tools act like paintbrushes, but each has a different impact on your picture. The blur tool will blur the area where you paint, the sharpen tool will sharpen it, and the smudge tool will smudge the area all around the canvas. The smudge tool is very useful in drawing for creating nicely blended colours or for creating wisps and smoke that you can add to your photos.
Burn, Dodge and Sponge Tools (Keyboard: O)
The burn, dodge, and sponge tools are paintbrush-like tools that manipulate light and colour intensity. The burn tool can make areas in your photo darker. The dodge tool can make them lighter. The sponge tool can saturate or desaturate colour in the area you paint with it. These are all very useful tools for photo touch ups.
Pen Tool (Keyboard: P)
The pen tool is used for drawing vector graphics. It can also be used to create paths that can be used for various things that we'll discuss in a later lesson (although if you watch the video you can see a type path being created).
Type Tool (Keyboard: T)
The type tool lets you type horizontally. Tools hidden beneath the horizontal type tool will let you type vertically and also create horizontal and vertical text masks.
Path Tool (Keyboard: A)
The path tool lets you move any created paths around. It's like the move tool, but for paths.
Shape Tool (Keyboard: U)
The shape tool lets you create vector rectangles, rounded rectangles, circles, polygons, lines and custom shapes. These tools are very useful when designing or when creating shape masks for photos.
These are the 3D tools. We're not going to be dealing with 3D stuff in these lessons so all you really need to know is that these exist. If you're curious, this video will give you an idea of what these tools can do.
Hand Tool (Keyboard: H)
The hand tool allows you to click and drag around the Photoshop canvas. If the entire canvas currently fits on the screen, this tool won't do anything. This tool is for easily navigating around when you're zoomed in, or a picture is simple too big to fit on the screen at 100 per cent.
Zoom Tool (Keyboard: Z)
The zoom tool lets you zoom in and out of the Photoshop canvas by clicking on a given area. By default, the zoom tool only zooms in. To zoom out, hold down the option key and use the zoom tool as you normally would.
Colour Selection Tools (Keyboard: D, X)
These tools let you manage the colours you're using. The colour on top is the foreground colour (which is what your brushes will use.) The colour in back is the background colour. The two smaller icons up top are shortcut functions. The left one will set your foreground and background colours to the defaults (Keyboard: D). The double-headed curved arrow will swap your foreground and background colour (Keyboard: X). Clicking on either the foreground or background colour will bring up a colour picker so you can set them to precisely the colour you want.